Pittsfield Ward 5, Ward 6 City Council candidates hash out differences in debates
PITTSFIELD — During the first debate of the city's election season on Monday, ward candidates said they've heard complaints about taxes, trash and crime.
City Council hopefuls in wards 5 and 6 worked to distinguish themselves onstage in the Koussevitzky Arts Center at Berkshire Community College. They are the only council races that will appear on the preliminary ballot on Sept. 17.
Ed Carmel, Craig Gaetani and Dina Guiel Lampiasi — all vying for a Ward 6 seat — took sometimes fiery turns at the microphone. Joseph Nichols will also be on the ballot in Ward 6, but he did not show for the event.
In Ward 5, candidates included Patrick Kavey, Jonathan Lothrop and Eugene Maselli.
Carmel, who chairs the city's Homeless prevention Committee, took a shot at Lampiasi, implying she works for a special interest group.
"I don't work for any special interest group," he said. "I work for the people of the ward. Period."
Lampiasi, operations chief for Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington, said that's not the case.
"I'm not owned by anybody," she said. "I'm an independent thinker."
Gaetani touted his experience as a corporate executive — a perspective he said is sorely needed on the council.
On the issue of crime, Lampiasi said she would work collaboratively with public safety officials to ensure a sense of safety in the community.
"They deserve to feel safe in their homes," she said.
Gaetani said he's long pushed for the city's police officers to have body cameras and more boots on the ground. He said people in the West Side are hurting.
"They're being shortchanged," he said.
People in the West Side are worried, Carmel said, his voice breaking with emotion.
"And they need to be treated that way," he said.
Carmel also said he would install a community center in the West Side.
Gaetani said the Police Advisory and Review Board should be given more power to hold police officers accountable.
Building relationships between the department and the people it serves will help, Lampiasi said, noting initiatives like Coffee with a Cop and a new police hub on Columbus Avenue. With that, she said "residents feel supported."
On the issue of public services, Carmel said the city is overplowing in a way that degrades the city's roads and wastes taxpayer dollars. And with upwards of $50 million looming in water infrastructure repairs, Gaetani said the city needs his wastewater experience on its side.
If the city needs more revenue, Gaetani suggested eliminating a superintendent — a point that Lampiasi called "absurd."
"I say we need to cut two of them," Gaetani said, referring to the team of school administrators.
Lothrop, who served previously as the ward councilor for more than a decade, said it's important to keep staffing up at the police and fire departments. And with regard to city services, he said Pittsfield offers one of the highest dollar-to-service value in the area.
But Maselli, who served on the School Committee and the School Building Needs Commission, said change is needed on the City Council. Displeasure with how things are going is what inspired his run, he said.
"We can't talk about what we did [do]," he said. "What are we going to do?"
While Lothrop and Kavey both saw benefits to revenue from the newly legal cannabis industry, Maselli said it is not a good thing.
"We gotta start going forward forward," he said. "But this is not the way to do it."
Kavey said money could be invested in high-speed rail as a way to move traffic off the roads. He also said city leaders should "trim the fat" from the budget in order to fix more city roads.
When it comes to spending money on roads, Lothrop said "we need to look at how we're allocating the dollars." He said he'd like to see the city spend more each year to keep up with city roads, and work to beef up the ranks of the Public Services Department.
In response to a question about how to make the city more friendly to seniors, all the Ward 5 candidates mentioned the value of the city's Ralph J. Froio Senior Center.
Maselli, who volunteers at the center, said it's an important resource. "It's just fantastic," he said.
Lothrop said he'd like to see the city foster connections between teens and seniors, and more spaces for seniors to congregate.
"Isolation is really the breeding ground for a lot of problems in our community," he said.
Kavey said the city should work to increase the city's population, thereby reducing the tax burden on seniors. He might be young and new to politics, but Kavey said he has seven years of management experience and is taking this run very seriously.
"I think we need to start looking at the issues in the city with new eyes," he said.
Amanda Drane can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Ward 6 candidate Joseph Nichols did not show for the event.
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